Category Archives: Hugh Patterson

The Power of the Threat

While executing an attack or promoting a pawn can lead to a winning game, beginners often do so because they think that action (attacking or promoting) is more powerful than the threat of action. Taking action, such as launching a successful attack against your opponent or promoting a pawn, certainly can lead to victory. However, sometimes just the threat of such actions can have a greater influence on the course of the game in the long run. An attack can fizzle out and a passed pawn can be captured. However, a good threat can create long term problems for your opponent, stalling their plans while they deal with yours!

Typically, the beginning chess player only looks at moves that lead to something concrete or immediate, such as employing a fork to win material or getting a pawn to its promotion square to add another Queen into the game. These are certainly good goals to have in mind when determining the next move in your game. However, beginners employing this type of thinking are actually looking at things in black and white terms. While the majority of the game’s principles appear to be black and white in nature, there are exceptions or gray areas which more experienced players understand and take advantage of. The threat is one such example.

When we first learn the game’s principles, such as having more attackers than opposition defenders, we approach this principle in a rather primitive way. We pick a target and start aiming our pawns and pieces at that target. As beginners we develop tunnel vision, seeing only our target which limits our consideration of other positional aspects. We use such chess principles to improve our game but when we treat a principle as an iron clad rule we run into problems. Take the threat of doing something compared to making good on that threat and taking action.

A threat is suggesting that you’re going to do something without actually doing it. You’re neighbors might be talking about throwing an all night party so you knock on their door the day before the party and tell them you’ll call the police if the party goes on past a certain hour. This is an example of a threat. Your neighbors might reconsider their party if they think the police will show up and shut it down. You might not have to even call the police because the threat of taking action means those troublesome neighbors will most like reconsider their plans. This same idea holds true in chess.

The simplest example of a strong threat in chess can be found in the passed pawn. A passed pawn is one that has no opposition pawns on the files on either side of it. So, if you have a pawn on the c file and there are no opposition pawns on the b and d files, that mighty little c pawn has a chance to make its way to its promotion square (c8 for White and c1 for Black). The threat is the threat of promotion. This creates problems for your opponent because he or she will have to keep an eye on that pawn, in the form of employing pieces to stop its promotion. Valuable opposition pieces will have to stop what they’re doing, participating actively in the game, to prevent the promotion.

Lets say you get your c pawn to the square c7. Now that pawn is one move away from promotion. The pawn on c7 is a major threat that your opponent cannot ignore. Just keeping the pawn on c7, using a pawn or piece to protect it maintains the threat. This means your opponent has to deal with that threat which can weaken his or her position because someone has to pull guard duty. If you are able to safely promote the pawn, that’s great. However, if you can maintain the threat of promoting that pawn for five or six moves you’ll be doing more damage to your opponent’s game because they’ll have to deal with that threat during each of those five or six moves.

Tactical threats are also very useful, using the same idea that your opponent has to deal with the threat. Let’s say you see a potential Knight fork that will garner material if the fork is executed. Your opponent might see the threat and have to adjust his or her plans to prevent it. If you can keep the Knight positioned so that the threat is maintained for another move or two, your opponent will have to keep shuffling pawns and pieces around to deal with the threat. This means your opponent isn’t able to execute their immediate plan and instead, deal with your threat. While gaining material is certainly worth something, forcing your opponent to deal with a threat by potentially weakening his or her position is worth more. Dealing with threats often means weakening one’s position.

Employing threats in chess is also a great way to learn how to be patient. Beginners are far from patient when they start their chess careers, often launching early attacks that might gain material but weaken their position. When developing a threat on the chessboard you have to hold off on executing the threat, or taking action, until the moment is right. In the case of our Knight fork, you don’t want to try to maintain the threat indefinitely. You want to let your opponent weaken their position and then execute the tactic, in this case a fork. This teaches the beginner a valuable lesson in both patience and timing. When to execute the fork depends on a number of positional aspects. If you’re about to lose the opportunity to execute the fork, then employ this tactic, letting the threat become reality. The same thing holds true with our pawn promotion example. All threats have an expiration date and all expiration dates are different, depending on the position.

One good way to learn about threats is to play through master level games. I have my students go through a game looking for threats. They’ll go through one game four or five times. I have them play through the game twice, simply getting a feel for the game itself, noting whether it’s open or closed game, etc. My students will then note each time a tactic is played or a passed pawn created during their third play through of the game. Next they go back and look at the moves leading up to the tactical play or moment the pawn became a passed pawn. In the case of the tactic, they note when the threat of the tactic started and how long (in moves) it took for the threat to be turned into reality (when the fork, for example, was finally employed) or stopped. With passed pawns, I have students follow the action from the moment the passed pawn was created to either its promotion or capture. How long did the threat hold up? How many pawns and pieces did the opposition have to use to deal with the threat? How was the opponent’s position weakened while dealing with the threat? By playing through master level games, students clearly see the effectiveness of threats which they can then employ in their own games.

Threats can have a greater long term value in the form of tying up opposition material and weakening one’s position. With master level games, it’s extremely educational to see how both sides make and deal with threats. Here’s a game chock full of threats by my favorite chess player, Boris Spassky. Enjoy!

Hugh Patterson

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Chess and Bonding

I was once offered a piece of advice regarding parenting, “you’re damned if you do and damned of you don’t.” During the early years of your child’s life, he or she looks up to you as parent and hero and all things in between. Then come the teenage years and with them rebellion. No matter what you do, your child will disagree with you, spitting out statements such as “you just don’t understand,” or worse yet, “I hate you.” This can be heartbreaking for a loving parent! However, this attitude tends to be a natural evolutionary stage for teenagers who are exploring the boundaries of adolescence and societal behavior. Don’t take it personally.

Activities that bond parent and child can be extremely important during these unruly years and act as a lifeline for adolescents who might otherwise venture into dangerous situations that lead to irreparable damage. Many parents bond with their children through sports, sharing a common love of a football team, or through youth sporting leagues. However, this bond is often not strong enough to survive the rigors of those terrible teenage years. Of course, I tell my students that it’s their job to rebel as a teenager, doing so creatively rather than destructively. After all, some of the world’s greatest rebels have created some of civilization’s greatest achievements. I also tell them that one day they’ll be sorry for the things they say to their parents in their youth.

Maintaining a bond with a child throughout both your lives can be difficult. So many factors come into play that can work against the parent/child relationship, eroding that relationship before it’s had a chance to fully develop. While love is the key, love can be an extremely difficult idea for the young mind to truly understand. Therefore, developing solid bonds early on, bonds that have the ability to last a lifetime, provide the greatest opportunity for not losing touch with your children.

Chess is a fantastic bonding tool for parent and child. Before delving into the psychological aspects of this idea, we should look at the socioeconomic reasons for chess being an excellent bonding tool. First off, investing in chess equipment is inexpensive. You just need a chess set and access to learning materials which can be found online or at your local library. Second, chess doesn’t have defined social boundaries (financial, religious or political). Rich or poor, Catholic or Muslim, Democrat or Republican, people who love the game of chess play for their love of the game. I’ve often seen Muslims and Catholics happily battling it out on the chessboard, putting their religious differences aside for the sake of the game. Chess has no physical requirements, so a parent with a disability who cannot play football with their child can still play chess with that child.

What sets aside chess as a good bonding tool over other parent/child endeavors is that it is an activity that both parent and child can learn at the same time with both participants being on equal footing (although children who are serious about chess tend to eclipse their parents over time). Because there are no physical aspects to the game, the age at which you learn to play isn’t an issue. Try being a fifty year old man learning how to play football with his fifteen year old son!

The idea that chess can improve a child’s logic and reasoning skills also applies to parents. Imagine an activity that is equally good for both parent and child alike! Chess is also good for one’s memory which is a plus for older parents and excellent for children lacking in focus.

Psychologically, I believe that chess allows for a tighter, long lasting bond between parent and child because it’s a game of the mind in which both players are interlocked in a dance of sorts. Plans are met by counter plans, a type of intellectual ballet. Chess is a neutral zone where parents are less apt to say something their child thinks uncool or offensive, which erodes at the bond rather than strengthening it. It’s a chance to spend time with your child in a place where it’s all about the action on the board. Both parent and child can leave their views and opinions of the world on the sidelines and enter the world of chess.

If you’re a parent who already plays chess, you can help develop your child’s chess skills without having to worry about saying something they won’t like. Your child, even unruly teenagers, will appreciate getting better because they, in turn, will be able to go out and beat their friends at chess (thanks to your help). With teenagers, you don’t want to set up a scheduled time to play on a regular basis at first. Set up a chessboard and sooner or later they’ll get curious. Only then, when your child is interested, should you suggest a regularly scheduled game. This can go a long way towards strengthening bonds.

If you and you child are both new to chess, you have an opportunity to create a very strong bond. If your child is taking his or her first chess class, ask them to show you what they learned in class that day. Let your child become the teacher. Of course, you’ll want to go over what they show you, using an age appropriate chess book, to reinforce your own knowledge, and to make sure they’re playing correctly. If your child struggles with a chess concept, work together to understand it. I offer the parents of my students, the opportunity to sit in on my classes or take a couple of free lessons to get them up to speed. That is how important the idea of bonding through chess is to me. I encourage all of my student’s family members to play chess and have had classes with a parent, uncle and grandmother of one student all learning at the same time.

Chess provides a nice break for both parent and child from the technological devices that we spend much of our day staring at. Video games are a parent’s worst nightmare because they’re often violent and send the wrong message to impressionable minds. Most parents have no interest in the video games their kids play. You don’t have that problem with chess! Chess requires no batteries! Chess helps develop patience in both parent and child and patience is a much needed skill for parents.

I’ve seen first hand, potentially troubled teens who maintained a bond with a parent through their love of chess. Those same teenagers never ended up getting into too much trouble because of that bond. Try playing some chess with your child. Consider it a long term investment, one that pays off down the road. Play chess with your child because forming a better bond may be the single event that prevents calamity later on in their lives. Better human bonds make for better humans. Here’s a game to enjoy until next week.

Hugh Patterson

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Cramped Positions

When we first learn how to play chess, we study open games as opposed to closed games. In an open game, there are plenty of available squares on the board, making piece placement easier. Long distance attackers, such as the Bishop, Rook and Queen rule the positional roost. In a closed game, there is less space available, so our long distance pieces can’t openly control the board. Our Knights and pawns become the positional weapons of choice. Open games lead to more tactical play while closed games lead to more positional play. The beginner, more often than not, becomes lost when their opponent steers the game toward a closed position. In closed games, the center of the board is often cramped which leaves beginners wondering what to do. Here are some simple suggestions for un-cramping a closed position.

When faced with a closed or cramped position, you have to create a plan for relieving the pressure. Many beginners end up further cramping their position because they make moves that avoid exchanges, thinking that if they can further close the position down, their opponent will eventually have to give in and make a move that costs them material. Wrong! If you’re playing an opponent who has experience with closed or cramped positions they’re going to, as the saying goes, give you enough rope and watch you hang yourself. Remember, you are used to open positions while your opponent may be used to closed or cramped positions. This is the type of position they like! Therefore, you have to have a plan, which can be difficult for those not used to this type of situation. There are four ideas you can employ to relieve the cramped or closed position.

First, consider removing or trading opposition pieces that are cramping your position. Bishops, for example, are at their best in open positions where they have great mobility. However, if they have no room in which to move, they’re “bad Bishops.” On the other side of the coin, because Knights can jump over other pieces, they work extremely well in closed or cramped positions. If your opponent has “good Knights” and you have “bad Bishops,” see if you can find a way to trade you immobile Bishops for your opponent’s mobile Knights. While Knights and Bishops have the same relative value, this value changes depending on the type of position they’re in. Trading a bad piece for a good piece will help to unclog the position, opening things up. The better a piece’s mobility, the better that piece is!

Second, use pieces of lesser value to push back pieces of greater value that stand in your way. This is a realm in which pawns are King! Because pawns have the lowest relative value, a pawn attacking a minor or major piece is (in most cases but not all) going to force that piece off of its square. The same holds true with minor pieces (Knights and Bishops) attacking major pieces (Rooks and Queens). However, you must take care when attacking in such a way. This type of attack is only completely successful if it drives the targeted piece away without weakening your position. If you successfully drive the piece in question away, only to create a position that allows your opponent to win material or checkmate your King on the next move, you might reconsider your attack. Don’t be discouraged by this last statement! In closed or cramped positions, it usually takes more than one opposition move to ruin your game.

Third, consider attacking your opponent’s weakest point on the board, which can be difficult for beginners to determine. The easiest way for the beginner to find the weakest point in their opponent’s position is to look at each opposition pawn and piece and determine the number of defenders that pawn or piece has. Since attacking the King is the name of the game, start by looking at the pawns and pieces defending the opponent’s King. However, there are often weaknesses elsewhere that can provide an avenue for attack. Always count the number of attackers you have and compare it to the number of defenders your opponent has. Remember, you’ll want to have more attackers than opposition defenders.

Fourth, Attack the opposition’s space advantage straight or head on! When experienced chess players navigate closed or cramped positions, the scales are a bit more balanced. By this, I mean that both players have a more even positions, cramped as it may be. When beginners face a closed or cramped position, they are more often than not playing someone who knows this type of position better. This means, the beginner’s pieces are cramped together with no room to breath while their opponent’s pieces have a bit more in the way of mobility. This means the beginner has to bit the bullet and attack. However, you can’t just attack any piece! Examine the position and look for the piece that controls the most space. When I refer to space, I’m talking about space on your side of the board! Think about where you’d like to put your pieces and determine which opposition piece prohibits this. That’s your target. You might consider exchanging a piece of great value for an opposition pieces of lesser value if doing so gives your other pieces much needed breath room.

I have my students learn a bit about closed positions early on, not so they can start playing closed games out of the gate but so they can recognize openings or sequences of moves that lead to closed or cramped positions. Recognizing that a position is heading towards becoming closed helps you prepare for such a position. If your opponent is trying to close or cramp a position, you should be trying to keep it open. If you find yourself in a cramped position, try using my four suggestions to open that position up. Here’s a game by a gentleman who loved closed positions. Enjoy!

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External Pattern Recognition Exercises

Parents often enroll their kindergarten aged students in a chess class with the idea of introducing their children to logic and reasoning skills early on. When teaching children of such a young age, conventional chess teaching approaches have to be reconsidered. I have one class that is made up of both Kindergarten and First Grade students only. I’ve had this class for roughly nine months and we’ve made some remarkable progress in the development of their chess skills. One technique I’ve used to help develop their chess playing is external pattern recognition exercises. These exercise have worked so well that I’m recommended them to older students as well.

Let me start by explaining the difference between internal and external pattern recognition in terms of my curriculum. Internal pattern recognition is finding or seeing patterns on the chessboard during a game. While this is a goal all chess players strive for, it should and is strengthened by external pattern recognition exercises. External pattern recognition exercises take place far from the chessboard, often in within our daily lives. External pattern recognition exercises lay a solid foundation for recognizing patterns on the chessboard. By employing these external exercises, your ability to recognize specific patterns on the chessboard (internal) will increase at a faster rate.

Because I teach students of all ages, I have to create external pattern recognition exercises appropriate to specific age groups. While all the exercises work well for older students, very young students require exercises that they can comprehend. If they can’t comprehend an exercise, they won’t get anything useful out of it. Therefore, I’ll start with exercises for the youngest of my students.

The idea of pattern recognition can be completely foreign to a Kindergarten or First Grade student. Thus, the definition I give them is “things that match.” I have my young students create a simple list of things they see in their daily lives that match, such as a pair of socks or four tires on a car. This is external pattern recognition (away from the chessboard), Each week, my young students give me their list of things that match. We then look at a chessboard, set up to play a game. I ask them to show me everything that matches on the chessboard, such all the White pawns, all the Black pawns and so on. At this point, I ask them to create a new list, this time looking specifically at nature for examples. When looking at a grouping of similar trees, is there one that has more branches than the others or is leaning in the opposite direction than the others? We increase the scope of their pattern recognition with each passing week. We always go back to the chessboard where I ask them to further explore patterns such as the diagonals, ranks and files. This continues throughout their chess classes for at least six months (no matter how good their chess playing gets).

For older students, I use card games to help build their pattern recognition skills. We start with Solitaire, namely the computer program version of the game. The student plays a three card draw version of Solitaire rather than the single card at a time version. The reason for this is simple. While trying to match the appropriate cards, they have to keep track cards they need within the three card set they’re trying to play. I recommend playing this card game for ten minutes each day because it helps to focus the mind towards recognizing specific patterns. If you want to try this, set the game options so it isn’t timed. Then, once you get used to playing it on a regular basis, use the timer. Solitaire can be an excellent way to enhance pattern recognition.

For adult students, I recommend playing draw poker, specifically the apps designed for tablets. Draw poker has some useful advantages for the novice adult chess player. First, it teaches pattern recognition in a very visual way. You essentially have five cards on the screen and are given the choice to hold those cards or to exchange them for new cards from the deck (exchanging one to five cards per hand). The app always gives you the odds of specific hands such as a pair, three of a kind, four of a kind, etc. Another advantage to using this draw poker game for training is that it forces you to play more scientifically, ultimately (if you’re playing correctly) taking less chances. How does draw poker playing apply to chess?

I spoke of wishful thinking in my last article. Wishful thinking is hoping your opponent will make the move you want them to make as opposed to the best move they can make independent of your ideas. In draw poker, for example, novice players will play a pair of twos rather than hold onto a Ace. If you look at the odds chart that comes with the game, you’ll see that it’s better to hold the Ace. While it is tempting to play the pair, hoping the computer program behind the app will bend to your will, it’s wishful thinking!

Speaking of programming, I introduce my older students to the idea of playing the program’s algorithm, the mathematical instructions that tells the computer how to respond to the card hand you play. Because this version of poker is based on a mathematical formula, it will respond to specific situations in a calculated way (it’s programming), not just responding to your card hand based on odds. You play the algorithm by noting patterns in the hands being played. For instance, if you win two hands, one with a pair of Queens, the next with three Queens, holding a Queen in the next or third hand dealt might not work. The computer program behind the app is designed to respond in a specific way to the cards you play. I have been researching the algorithm behind a specific draw poker app with a group of students and we have been able to win quite a bit by playing the program not just the odds.

The point to all this is to use external methods to improve your pattern recognition because you can literally find patterns everywhere you go and the more you study patterns off of the chessboard, the better your pattern recognition becomes on the chessboard. Games such as Scrabble are also wonderful for pattern recognition. Try some of these exercises and you’ll not only improve your chessboard pattern recognition but see life in a more interesting way. Here’s a game to enjoy until next week.

Hugh Patterson

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Wishful Thinking

The beginner makes a move with high hopes that his or her opponent will make the counter-move the beginner has anticipated. Of course, their opponent makes a move but it isn’t the move our beginner anticipated. Our beginner is now faced with a weak position that degrades further and further with each subsequent move. Where did our intrepid beginner go wrong? Our beginner employed the same idea many desperate gamblers use, wishful thinking. My Uncle, who was quite a good gambler, used to say “scared money never wins.” Employing wishful thinking nets the same result, a journey on the road to ruin. What is wishful thinking in chess?

Wishful thinking is making a move that only works if your opponent makes the exact move you want them to make and that opposition move is a poor one! Good chess means both players are making the best moves in an effort to execute their individual plans. Wishful thinking chess means playing one sided chess. One sided chess is only considering what you can do, not what your opponent can do. This is a huge hurdle for the novice player.

Beginners are generally overwhelmed by the large number of game principles and theory thrown at them through instructional material in the form of books, DVDs and software. They often halfheartedly learn these principles and try to bend or break them before they have a true understanding of those principles. A general life principle might tell you it is dangerous to walk on the edge of a cliff because you could slip, fall off and meet a dreadful end. Our beginning chess student certainly wouldn’t walk next to the edge of a cliff because it’s dangerous. However, that same student would take a chance by bending a game principle. Our student would exercise logic and reason when faced with a physically dangerous situation but wouldn’t employ the same logic and reason on the chess board. He might consider taking a chance on the chessboard. Chance has no place in chess because it’s akin to wishful thinking!

Logic should be the driving force behind the moves a beginner makes. Logic is the science of the formal principles of reasoning. Thus, to employ logic you employ specific principles when making a decision. Of course, this is an extremely simplified definition but one that will serve to guide the beginning chess player. Chess principles are ideas that have been tested and retested over time, always found to be sound in nature. If you’re a beginner you should seriously consider the idea that these principles work and they should be learned and employed by you from day one. When you play thought a game by a Grandmaster who breaks or bends a game principle successfully, remember that the Grandmaster first had to master those principles. Mastering game principles means completely understanding them and employing them. When you learn how to play a musical instrument, you spend many years mastering basic musical principles. Only after you gained a fair amount of knowledge, can you start to explore the idea of breaking protocol or principle. You have to learn how to walk before you run!

Two sets of principles, opening and endgame principles, are the most maligned by beginners. When I teach beginner’s classes, I teach basic principles for both these phases of the game. I keep it simple. For the opening phase, I teach the three primary principles, moving a pawn that controls the board’s center on move one, development of minor pieces towards the center and castling. For the endgame phase, I teach basic mating combinations and pawn promotion. My classes spend a great deal of time working on these principles, yet there are always a handful of students who insist on employing wishful thinking, doing things their way rather than the principled way.

There is something to be said about trail and error learning. Sometimes, we need to fail repeatedly to truly learn a lesson. However, this method of thinking can discourage the novice chess player. Therefore, when teaching the game’s principles, the chess teacher must carefully and thoroughly explain each principle in great detail! One of the best ways to teach a principle is to demonstrate what happens when that principle isn’t employed, namely the dire consequences that result. If I have a student who is having trouble embracing game principles, we sit down and play a few games. As I make principled moves and my student makes unprincipled moves, I explain the consequences carefully as we play. The student sees the consequences of not using correct principles on the board as he or she plays.

This easiest way to get students to employ principled play is to teach them to use simple logic as a guide when determining the correct move. I teach my students that logical thinking in chess is weighing the good against the bad. For example, we’re all taught that moving the e pawn to e4 is the best move for an absolute beginner. If a student simply moves the e pawn because everyone says it’s the best move, then they’re not really learning anything in the way of logical thinking. If the student is taught that control of the center is key in the opening, then they have a logical reason for playing 1. e4. However, you have to provide more information such as saying “this moves allows the Queen and King-side Bishop instant access to the board.” You can also further expand on this idea by saying that the opposition’s King is on a central file and he is the ultimate target. Additionally, pieces are more powerful when centrally located. The more information provided, the greater the logical reinforcement. The more information a teacher provides regarding why a principle is sound, the more likely a student will apply that principle. A student should always think about what makes a principled move sound rather than blindly making that move.

Once the principles have been ingrained in the student’s mind, it’s time to stamp out wishful thinking once and for all. This happens when you carefully consider your opponent’s best response to your potential move. Often, a beginner will try to chase a long range piece (Bishop, Rook or Queen) with a short range piece (Pawn, Knight or King). Of course, the long range piece simply races away. If you consider your opponent’s best response to such an idea, you’d never make that move in the first place! To think about your opponent’s best response to your move, put yourself in your opponent’s shoes. Pretend your playing you opponent’s pieces when considering a move. What would you do to stop the move your considering. One exercise I have my student’s do it is switching sides during a game on every move. You start making a move for White and when your opponent makes Black’s move, you switch sides. This is very effective in destroying wishful thinking.

You have to play both sides of the board not just your side of the board. You have to use the principles and basic logic to guide your moves. If you don’t you’re not playing a game of thinking but a game of chance. Remember, when playing a game of chance, the house always wins and sadly you’re not the house. Here’s game to enjoy until next week!

Hugh Patterson

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Strategy or Tactics

Students often ask me which is more important, strategy or tactics? It’s a good question, one worth exploring. It’s been said that chess is 99% tactics and the beginner might agree with this since many beginner’s games are won through the deployment of accidental tactics, such as a fork or pin. I say accidental because tactics require a combination of pieces to be in the right place at the right time. This means setting up a specific position which is generally beyond the scope of most beginners. Many beginners stumble onto tactical plays which helps solidify their belief that tactics are the primary key to chess success. However, tactical positions don’t simply appear out of nowhere. This is where strategic thinking comes into play.

Many chess students invest in training software programs that are a collection of tactical problems. While these programs help you to spot tactical opportunities and develop your board vision, which is a good thing, they don’t address a key issue. That issue is how tactical positions come about in the first place. It’s all well and good to be able to spot a tactical opportunity but unless you can create one from scratch while playing, it does you little good. This is one problem with purely tactical studies. Beginner’s spot tactical puzzle solutions but don’t know how the position was arrived at. This is where the study of strategy comes into play.

When beginners start playing chess they look for the big plays, such as fast checkmates and attacks that garner them substantial material. Its all about making moves that either win the game or win pieces. The beginner’s style of playing is based on clumsy brute force thinking. It takes time and practice to develop a more strategic way of playing. When beginners play one another, one often wins because one player stumbles upon a fork, for example, that allows them to win them a Rook or Queen. Their opponent suddenly feels as if they’ve lost a critical piece of material and continues the game as if waiting for the hangman to come and dispatch them from this mortal coil! I’ve seen many students lose a major piece (Rook or Queen) and subsequently lose their will to win. Tactical plays don’t simply appear magically. They require a combination of moves that are based on strategic principles. Without strategy, tactics would be impossible.

The beginner might think that strategy requires many years of carefully honing one’s chess skills, and they’d be right. However, this doesn’t mean that the beginner will not be able to employ tactics until they completely mastered the art of strategy. There are a few basic strategical ideas the beginner can employ to bring them one step closer to creating tactical plays. The most important idea the beginner must learn when walking the road towards tactical mastery is the idea of piece activity.

My students get their first introduction to piece activity when they learn the second of the three primary opening principles, developing your pieces during the opening. During the opening, beginners are taught to move or develop their minor pieces towards the board’s four central squares, d4, d5, e4 and e5 (the squares directly surrounding those four central squares are introduced in later lessons). Then the Rooks are connected by moving the Queen off of her starting rank (but not too far away). Beginners often decide that getting their four minor pieces developed towards the center and connecting their Rooks ends the piece activity phase of the game. They then start launching attacks and looking for, you guessed it, tactical plays such as forks, pins, skewers, etc. Disappointment soon follows because there are no tactical plays to be had (in most cases)!

Piece activity is critical and the greater your piece activity, the greater the opportunity for tactics. This means you have to think strategically or long term. Once you’ve developed your pieces during the opening, you should always be looking to improve a piece (or pawn’s) activity. Active squares are those that influence, control or nail down space in the center or on the opponent’s side of the board. If you control a greater number of squares on your opponent’s side of the board than he or she controls on your side of the board two things are going to happen. First, your opponent is going to have a difficult time safely getting his or her own pieces into the game and second, you’ll have a better chance of employing tactics. So, is piece activity the only key to the successful employment of tactics? No, you need to develop your ability to create combinations.

A combination in chess is a series of connected moves that lead to a positional set up. That positional set up allows you to execute tactical plays such as forks, pins, skewers, etc (or checkmate). When you look at a beginner’s tactical puzzle, which is often solved with a single move, you’re not seeing what lead up to that amazing fork or pin. You see the end result of a combination of moves that lead up to that winning tactical move. Combinations are difficult for beginners because the novice chess player is still looking only one move ahead. Worse yet, the beginner thinks they see a few moves ahead but what they’re really seeing is their move and the response they want their opponent to make. Then, when their opponent makes exactly the move our beginner wants them to make, our novice player hits them with a daring tactical move. “If I make this move and my opponent makes that move, I’ll be able to fork their King and Queen, winning the Queen.” It sounds great except for one slight problem. Your opponent isn’t going to simply make a bad move in order to allow you to win their Queen.

This is a case of wishful thinking and wishful thinking is a sure fire way to lose chess games. What the beginner needs to consider is the best possible move their opponent can make in response to their own move. I teach my students to consider their opponent’s move as if they were suddenly playing their opponent’s side of the board. Doing this allows you to find any flaws with your own potential moves, as well as avoiding the fallout of a bad blunder. Your opponent isn’t going to make it easy for you to win just like you’re not going to make it easy for your opponent to win!

Always think about your opponent’s best response before making a move. This will go a long towards helping you develop winning combinations. When trying to create a combination, define your goal, such as forking the opposition’s Rook and Queen. If employing a Knight fork, note where your Knight needs to be in order to fork those two pieces. Look at the square your Knight is currently on and ask yourself, how can I get the Knight to the square it needs to be one in order to execute the tactic? How many moves will it take to get to the target square? Consider that first move. After considering that move, determine the best possible response from your opponent. What would you do if you were playing as your opponent? After determining the best opposition response, and if your candidate move appears to be sound, consider the next move in your combination. Ask the same questions. If all seems sound then start the combination.

I know, I’m asking the beginner to do a lot of basic calculation and the novice player may not be able to successful anticipate the best opposition responses. However, employing this method of thinking, the beginner will improve and tactical skills will start to develop. While tactics are wonderful, you cannot employ them until you gain some strategical knowledge. Beginners should stick to two move combinations to start, only going for a tactical play if it can be executed within two moves, As they become more strategically experienced they can move on to three move combinations, etc. Chess requires hard work and for my beginning students, strategical thinking can be difficult. However, those that put in the effort are rewarded tenfold. Here’s a game to enjoy until next week!

Hugh Patterson

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Kirk Versus Spock

Being a life long Star Trek fan, the passing of Leonard Nimoy (Mr. Spock) hit me hard. My band’s long time drummer posted a video clip of Captain Kirk and Mr. Spock playing chess on my Facebook page yesterday. Spock announces he will checkmate Kirk on the next move. Well, it’s Kirk’s move and the Captain checkmates Spock. Spock wasn’t very happy, although he had to keep up his Vulcan appearance and avoid any display of emotion. This scene got me to thinking about two very distinct chess types, the player who employs sound logic (Spock) and the player who takes chances (Kirk). What if Spock went back in time and played Paul Morphy. Would the logical playing style of Mr. Spock beat out the swashbuckling and daring of Morphy? I’ll answer this question later.

On Star Trek, Captain Kirk is the taker of great chances while Mr. Spock is the voice of pure reason and logic. When we learn how to play chess, we’re taught sound logical principles, principles that Mr. Spock would approve of. He’d approve of these principles because they have been tested over time and have proven to be sound in nature. We all learn opening principles such as moving a pawn to a central square on move one, developing minor pieces to active, centralized squares and castling our King to safety. Mr. Spock would approve of these principles because they’re logical and sound.

Then there are the opening principles that guide us regarding what not to do. Don’t make too many pawn moves, don’t bring your Queen out early and don’t move the same piece twice before developing the majority of your other pieces. Here’s where Captain Kirk comes into play. Mr. Spock would logically reason that bringing the Queen out early would allow his opponent to develop pieces to active squares while attacking his exposed Queen, forcing that Queen to keep moving at the cost of proper development. Spock would be correct from a logical standpoint. However, our swashbuckling Captain might be able to create some threats by bringing his Queen out early against a less skilled opponent. In the end, logic wins out because bringing your Queen out early only works against the weakest of opponents.

What about not moving the same piece twice before developing your other forces? Here things get a bit murky. Mr. Spock would calmly follow this principle, carefully and thoughtfully developing a new piece with each move. Captain Kirk, on the other hand, might consider moving a piece twice during the opening if it meant he could launch an attack. After 1. e4…e5, 2. Nf3…Nc6, 3. Bc4…Nf6, our daring Captain (manning the White pieces) might play 4. Ng5, moving his King-side Knight a second time. While this goes against the logic of the principle, it does create a problem for Mr. Spock (manning the Black pieces). The c4 Bishop and g5 Knight are both attacking the f7 pawn who is only protected by the King. Mr. Spock would calmly play 4…d5 and the game would go on with the good Captain having to reevaluate his early attack. Seems simple enough. What would happen if, in another game, Mr. Spock found one of his minor pieces attacked by a pawn in the opening? Remember, Mr. Spock follows the opening principles to the letter. He’d now be faced with having to move a piece twice during the opening. Would he do it? Yes, because he would compare the value of the pawn to that of the minor piece and conclude that it would be better to bend an opening principle as opposed to losing a valuable piece.

Mr. Spock would look at opposition moves, no matter how illogical they seemed, with a watchful eye. However, his adherence to logic might cause him to dismiss an illogical move as a mere human blunder. Of course, the Captain would be likely to make a seemingly illogical move if he could launch an attack with it. It is just this kind of move that throws many beginners off, the seemingly illogical placement of a pawn or piece.

The beginner who is serious about chess follows the game’s principles as if their life depends on it. They become Spock-like in their thinking which is good up to a point. They think that if they’re employing sound game principles so should their opponent. If their opponent makes a seemingly illogical move, the beginner will dismiss it as a blunder rather than looking at the move to determine whether it has real merit. This dismissive thinking is the driving force behind the success of many opening traps. The trap’s victim often sees the moves leading up to a trap as unsound or unprincipled. Mr. Spock might very well dismiss this type of move as illogical and therefore harmless. Captain Kirk would look at a seemingly illogical move with suspicion because he isn’t as driven by pure logic as Mr. Spock. No matter what your opponent’s move, be it logical or illogical, you have to carefully examine that move from your opponent’s perspective to determine it’s merits.

Captain Kirk is an attacking player, going in for the kill as soon as possible, meaning he takes chances. But does he really take chances? Not so much a case of taking chances but playing aggressively. While Spock might be more comfortable building up a strong defensive position, Captain Kirk likes to go into battle with both guns blazing. Beginners should learn to do both. However, the beginner should start by learning the art of attack. Activate your pieces early on and, when you have more attackers than defenders, and attacking won’t weaken your position, be Captain Kirk. Attack! I suspect Spock would also launch an attack with more attackers than defenders with the prospect of weakening his opponent’s position while strengthening his. He’d say it was the logical thing to do!

The point here is that playing good chess requires being able to balance principled play with the ability to think outside of the box, the box being the game’s principles. Kirk did a great job thinking outside of the box when he cracked the Kobayashi Maru, a supposedly unbeatable Starfleet Academy training exercise. Had he only employed principles in his thinking he’d never have succeeded. A good chess player has to be both Captain Kirk and Mr. Spock. As for Mr. Spock and Paul Morphy going head to head on the chessboard, I suspect it would close but in the end Morphy would probably get the best of “that pointy eared Vulcan.” Live long and prosper. For any non Star Trek fans reading this, I promise I won’t mention Star Trek again for at least a year. Here’s a game to enjoy until next week.

Hugh Patterson

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Weak Squares

If you ever have a desire to create an instantaneous atmosphere of depression in a room full of eager chess students, say the following: “No matter how good a move seems, there is always a negative side to that move that has the potential to undermine your position.” That will instantly wipe the smiles off their collective faces, leaving you with a room full of students demanding to know how this could be possible. My students tend to groan after hearing such a statement but give it careful thought because they’ve seen a few of my lecture games in which this very idea occurs. If I was new to chess, I might wring my hands in despair upon hearing such a statement and consider a career in checkers, but you should read further.

Of course, this doesn’t mean that all moves will lead to dreadful positional problems. What it does mean is that you should examine the square you’re moving a pawn or piece off of before examining the square that pawn or piece is about to occupy.

A chess move can be likened to a coin, which obviously has two sides. When we pick up a coin, we examine both sides if for no other reason than to see what is etched on either face. If beginners would only take this approach when considering a move! The beginner tends to look only at the square the pawn or piece is moving to which can lead to positional problems. Even if the beginner carefully examines the square a piece is about to move to, taking into consideration possible opposition attacks against that piece, noting if the piece will increase it’s activity or seeing a potential capture or increase of attacking possibilities, they still ignore a key factor. That key factor is the weakness created upon moving that piece from the square it was on, the square you leave behind. This applies to both pawns and pieces.

One idea I teach my students early on is that you shouldn’t capture material if doing so weakens your position. The employment of this concept alone will go a long way towards improving your game. By capturing not for the sake of capturing but to increase the strength of your position, you avoid creating weaknesses within that position, but it isn’t enough. You have to take another step and that step is to carefully examine the square you leave behind when making any move.

I first became aware of “the square you leave behind” concept while watching a DVD by Grandmaster Maurice Ashley. When he discussed this concept I was honestly shocked because I realized that I was paying more attention to the square I was moving to and almost no attention to the square I moved from. The square you leave behind is the square vacated by a pawn or piece when you make a move. Even though I’m a full time chess teacher and coach, I’ll forever be a student of the game and this astounding idea of the square you leave behind left me feeling as if I’d been punched in the stomach. How could I miss this concept in my own training? Needless to say, I took note and started employing Grandmaster Maurice Ashley’s method of looking at a potential move. Here’s how you can employ this method: When considering a move, you obviously want to look at your opponent’s pawns and pieces to see if they control the square you want to occupy. If the square is controlled by opposition pawns and/or pieces, do you have a greater number of pawns and/or pieces also controlling that square? If you have a larger number of forces controlling the target square, next consider how moving to that square will affect your position. This is where it is absolutely critical to look at the square you’re leaving behind, the square that will be vacated by you pawn or piece when it moves. Take a look at the example below.

After 1. e4…e5, 2. Nf3…Nc6, 3. Bc4…Nd4, Black has moved the same piece twice during the opening phase of the game. This is something beginners are taught not to do, moving the same piece twice before developing the majority of their material during the opening. Remember, the opening is a race to see who gets control of the board’s center first. The beginner playing the White pieces sees that the pawn on e5 is hanging and his Knight on f3 is under attack by Black’s d5 Knight. The beginner weighs his or her options and decides to preserve the King-side Knight by capturing the undefended e5 pawn. Not once, did the beginner consider the square the White Knight gives up, f3. After White plays 4. Nxe5, Black plays 4…Qg5, forking the Knight on e5 and the pawn on g2. By moving the Knight off of the f3 square, White has weakened the position greatly. The person playing White should have considered the square left behind, f3, and the squares defended by the Knight on f3, the h4 and g5 squares. Always consider the square you leave behind before considering the square you’re moving to. Take a look at the next example from a student game (both beginners).

Here, White plays the King’s Gambit, 1. e4…e5, 2. f4. Rather than accepting the gambit with 2…exf4 (followed by 3. Nf3), Black plays 2…Bc5. White plays 3. d3 (allowing the Bishop on c1 to defend the pawn on f4 – dreadful business), failing to notice the weakness on f2. When discussing this weakness with my beginning students, they often comment that there are no pawns or pieces on f2 so what is the weakness? A pawn on f2 forms a wall with the pawns on g2 and h2 that help protect the White King when castling on the King-side. That pawn, once on f2, is now on f4. Furthermore, the Bishop on c5 is controlling the f2 square and more importantly, the g1 square. White will not be able to castle on the King-side, since you cannot castle into check, as long as the Black Bishop remains on c5. Again, we must look at the square we leave behind when considering a move. Of course, that Bishop can be dislodged from c5 but that requires additional work on the part of the person playing White which means expending additional moves to do so (a loss in tempo). This example is extremely simplified but the idea behind it still remains true, examine the square you leave behind before making a move.

Of course, there are times when you have to move a pawn or piece and doing so will weaken your position to varying degrees. You will find a downside to any move you make. However, you can minimize that downside by weighing the positive and negative aspects of that move and determining whether the positive outweighs the negative. Just carefully examining the square left behind will go a long way towards helping you avoid the positional nightmare that comes from only looking at one side of the coin. Yes, a chess move is like a coin in that it has two sides. You must look at both. In chess, looking at the square you abandon with a critical eye will before examining the square you’re going to will help you avoid heartache and checkmate! Here’s a game to enjoy until next week. See if you can find any weak squares left behind!

Hugh Patterson

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Confessions of a Self Learner

Teaching and coaching chess, my own game improves steadily. However, I put a minimum of two to three hours a day into studying chess because I practice what I preach, which is the idea that getting better at chess requires hard work. If you want to become a better chess player you have to roll up your sleeves and take action. Thinking about improving your own game does no good unless you actually do something such as studying. Action, in this case, is the act of creating a plan of improvement and following it.

I must confess that I can be the world’s laziest person when it comes to things I don’t want to do. My weed covered backyard attests to this fact! However, when I love something, I throw myself into it full throttle. Yet even my great love of chess doesn’t completely stop laziness from rearing it’s ugly head from time to time. I have to maintain self discipline to get through it and self discipline takes time to develop. Here’s my typical training day.

I start my day with a series of tactical mate in one exercises using a software program on my laptop. Typically, I’ll do sixty problems while having my first cup of coffee at 6:00 am. I prefer exercises that require me to look at the entire chessboard which helps improve my board vision. One tip I would offer in solving these problems is to look at all your pawns and pieces to determine which of them cover the enemy King’s escape squares. These pawns and pieces should remain where they are, leaving you to find the pawn or piece that can move and deliver checkmate. Approaching mate in one problems this way will help you avoid missing potential checkmates in your own games. You’d be surprised at how many potential checkmates players miss. Checkmate exercises help reduce the number of missed opportunities.

Once my brain is warmed up, it’s time to play a few games of Blitz against the computer. I start with a few Blitz games because I have commitments in the morning and often don’t have enough time to play an hour long game. I use my laptop’s chess program as an opponent. Blitz games that are five to ten minutes long are a good way to check your instinctual play. By instinctual, I mean testing out what you have retained in your memory (opening principles, tactics, etc). Blitz helps me play more aggressively and less defensively.

Because I have breaks throughout my teaching day, I often have thirty minute blocks of time to fill. This is when I study openings. I use an chess Ebook app on my tablet that has a small built in board so I can play through specific openings while reading the book. Teaching requires that I know quite a few openings so these thirty minute blocks of study time allow me to keep up with the numerous openings my students play. When I study openings, I approach them from the standpoint of how I would play against them. I take this approach because too often, we plod through the opening moves mechanically, looking at the opening from the viewpoint of the side the opening is designed for. We tend to pay just a little less attention to the opposition’s response. Paying just a little less attention can be disastrous when you use that opening in a game and don’t remember what the best opposition move was in a given position. When you look at an opening, say the Ruy Lopez for example, from Black’s perspective you not only learn more about White’s moves but Black’s critical responses as well. Openings are a two sided affair, so look at both sides, especially opposition responses.

During my classes, I make a point of playing as many students as possible. What I love about playing my students is their unpredictability. My students have been known to make some unorthodox but reasonable moves during our games. This gives me a chance to explore responses to those moves, forcing me to think outside of the box. While we learn chess in a somewhat mechanical fashion, purely mechanical thinking will lead to lost games. Learning how to deal with the unexpected will go a long way towards improving your play. Try non book/theory moves against the computer just to see what happens! You may get crushed but you might just find something interesting and useful. Be an explorer of the game!

After work, when I’m home in a quieter environment, I study the endgame. I have thirty minutes dedicated to this. Endgame studies require developing the ability to see many moves ahead which requires concentration. I tend to concentrate best in my office so that’s where I do my endgame work. I use software training programs and work through the positions very slowly. These are not mate in one problems, but mate in four, five and six moves. This means you have to take your time. Fewer pieces on the board means that the tables can turn on you very quickly if you lose a piece or even a single pawn. Endgame problems are a matter of quality over quantity.

After dinner I play a longer game against my computer, using what I’ve learned that day. It is during these games that I work on my middle game skills. What I’ve found in my studies is that we should start our middle game by building up small advantages rather than aiming for one large tide turning advantage such as a quick mating attack. Small advantages, when put together, make a large advantage. Because this large advantage is made up of smaller individual components, it will be more difficult for your opponent to thwart that overall advantage. Piece activity is a key consideration. The question you should ask yourself is whether or not your pieces are on their most active squares. Tactical combinations appear only when pieces are fully active!

The crucial aspect to self learning is getting into the habit of daily study. Like physical exercise, you have to do it regularly and not sporadically. If you do a little work every day, you’ll not only improve but be more apt to sit down and get to work on a daily basis without grumbling. I am fortunate in that I have a great deal of time to study chess. However, you may not. This means that you should put in a reasonable amount of time into your studies based on your schedule. To determine how much time you can put into your chess studies, take a look at your daily schedule and see if there is any down time, such as having to wait for a bus or train. If you have to wait for twenty minutes until your bus or train arrives, use that time to study. Sitting down for an hour at a time might seem a bit daunting. However, if you break it up into three twenty minute sessions, it may seem a bit more palatable. Use the time in between daily activities to improve your chess.

Sometimes you might not feel like studying chess. There’s nothing wrong with this. We all need a break now and again. In fact, I’d say taking time away from your studies can be good thing. Just make sure that you don’t stay away too long. Burn out is an occupational hazard so walk away when you need to. Remember, in chess, as in life, you get out of it what you put into it. Here’s a game to enjoy until next week!

Hugh Patterson

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Starting a Chess Club

I am often asked about starting chess clubs outside of my own chess classes by parents and teachers. I also receive frantic emails from teachers and parents who have started chess clubs and are having trouble maintaining them. Therefore, I thought I’d offer some advice on how to start a chess club for parents and teachers who may not have a great deal of experience with the game.

The first step in starting a chess club is finding a suitable location. Because chess requires concentration, the club should meet in a location that offers the least amount of external distractions. If meeting at a school, use the library or a classroom. Usually, a classroom will be assigned. Ask the person assigning the classroom if there is a classroom available that doesn’t have computers or musical instruments (both distractions). I recommend trying to use a classroom designated for Kindergarten aged students because the items found in this type of classroom won’t appeal to older kids. If using a library, ask if they have a smaller meeting room the chess club can use. Larger rooms make it more difficult to maintain control.

Invest in some basic equipment. This equipment includes boards, chess pieces, a few chess clocks and a demonstration board. Use non-weighted pieces because weighted pieces have a metal slug in them that can come loose and become a choking hazard. Chess pieces are based on King height and the height you want is 3 ¾ inches which is the tournament standard. Use vinyl chess boards with 2 ¼ inch squares. Start with five to eight complete sets of boards and pieces. As for clocks, invest in two to start. Most of your club’s members will be beginners and will not need to use a chess clock until they develop some real chess skills. Young beginners play too fast as it is, not thinking about their moves, and chess clocks seem to inspire them to play faster. The use of a chess clock should be earned through slow, good play. Use the use of a chess clock as a reward for hard work.

As for the demo or demonstration board, I recommend the old fashioned slotted pocket type. It’s old school but it doesn’t need batteries and won’t suddenly crash on you. Even though I have a laptop that can plug into my school’s projection system, I rely on my old demo board because it will not break down in the middle of a lecture.

The question that I’m most often asked regarding chess clubs is how to determine who in the club is a beginner and who is more advanced. If you’re a seasoned chess coach, you could have everyone start playing chess and be able to see who plays at what level. However, if you’re a parent or teacher who plays only a little chess, making such a determination can be difficult. The solution? A simple written quiz. This quiz should ask questions about piece movement, pawn and piece values, castling, opening principles as well as having some basic chess problems to solve. Have the club members take the quiz and sort those club members into two groups, beginners and intermediate players. I suggest two groups because most club members will fall into one of those two categories. What should you do if you get an advanced player into your club who might play chess as well as you? Make them your assistant coach and have them help fellow students.

What about the parent or teacher who isn’t a strong chess player? Well, you’ll have to put some work into your game. Use books to improve, such as the many books written by Bruce Pandolfini. You’ll get better and you can pass that knowledge on to your club members. Before you grumble, remember this; you signed on to start a chess club so you must have some interest in chess. If you have an interest in the game, you’ll enjoy improving along with your students. Here’s how I look at teaching and coaching: Wow, I get a chance to get better at the game I love and pass it along to others. That’s a win win situation!

Chess clubs are not a babysitting service. There are some parents who might look at an after school chess club as a cost effective alternative to paying a nanny. However, as the head of the chess club you cannot take this view. You have to be proactive. You have to make it an environment in which club members want to learn rather than simply pass the time. This brings us to the structure on the club itself.

Ideally you’ll want to meet once a week. Working with youngsters is different than working with adults. For one thing, young minds tend to lose concentration easily. Therefore, meet for one hour to start. You can give a lesson for the first twenty minutes, leaving forty minutes to play chess. Warning: Dull chess lessons can be comparable to watching paint dry. Keep the lessons simple. Trying to explain twenty different principles using a Bobby Fischer game that is sixty moves long will crush any enthusiasm your club members might have. Stick to the basics such as a lesson on checkmating with a King and Queen against a lone King or a lesson on the three basic opening principles (putting a pawn in the board’s center, developing the minor pieces and castling). Teach one concept at a time. Read anything written by Richard James for lesson ideas.

Regarding the opening principles, don’t teach specific openings until the opening principles are fully understood. Too often, the club leader will teach a specific opening which the club members memorize. Those club members will suffer on the board if they don’t know why they’re making those moves.

Have patience because you’ll need it! When you’re new to chess, which many of your club members will be, concepts can be difficult to grasp. The explanation you provide may not make sense to a ten year old. I tell my students that if I fail to explain a concept to their satisfaction then they have the absolute right to ask for another explanation of that concept. Encourage questions. Questions keep club members engaged and engaged minds are focused minds! My classroom lectures are a Socratic adventure in which the back and forth dialog reinforces my student’s comprehension of the subject matter.

Maintain discipline. You’re the adult so you have to keep order. While the majority of your club members will be focused, there is always one member who is troublesome. When I identify that individual, I say to them, “you’re my new assistant so I need you to give me a hand.” Even if its just to set stuff up, that individual will more often than not, feel a sense of purpose.

If you have trouble getting club members focused at the start of a lesson, try this: I’ll walk into the classroom, not say a word and set up the demonstration board. Then I’ll start playing through a game, making comments such as “that’s the most amazing thing I’ve ever seen.” Of course, my students will suddenly start looking at the demonstration board and asking me what is so amazing. I then proceed with the lesson which actually started the minute I starting playing through the game and making comments. Be creative!

Play against your students but make it a reward for hard work. In other words, play only those students who pay attention to the lessons. Maintain quiet when club members are playing one another. I use a Judge’s gavel to bring order to the room and when students hear it banging against the desk, they know it’s too loud.

As for homework, I seem to be one of the few instructors that get student’s to do homework on a regular basis. 85% of my students have been with me for one to three years and know that improvement comes with hard work (homework). However, you cannot do this with new students. I suggest no assignment of homework, at least at first. Students have enough homework as it is. The lesson you give and club members subsequently trying out their new found knowledge on the chessboard will be enough for basic improvement. Encourage club members to play with their parents, etc.

Take it slow, take is easy and be patient. Make your lessons entertaining (I have pulled out a guitar and sung “The e pawn blues” to my classes) and engaging. Know your topic. If you don’t understand it how can you expect anyone else to understand it? Maintain a structured disciplined environment, otherwise you’ll be the ring leader of the circus of madness. Teach good sportsmanship. Above all else, have fun. Here’s a game to ponder until next week.

Hugh Patterson

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